By Jim Freer and Bob Bauer
Saturday was a multiple record-setting day at Tampa Bay Downs, and another huge day at that track for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Of greatest significance on the Oldsmar track’s annual Festival Day was the emergence of the Pletcher-trained Tapwrit (photo on home page) as a top contender for this year’s Kentucky Derby (Grade 1).
The Tampa Bay Derby (Grade 2), which Tapwrit won in stakes record time, was a big part of all-sources handle of $12,123,021.
That was the second highest in Tampa Bay Downs history. The record of $12,250,447 was set on March 12, 2016—that year’s Festival Day. Both days had twelve races, including five stakes.
The attendance on Saturday was 10,097—1.2 percent lower than 10,206 on last year’s Festival Day.
“We’re extremely pleased and proud to see our biggest day receive such tremendous support from the Tampa Bay community,” said track Vice President-General Manager Peter Berube. “We wish all the participants the best of fortune going forward, and naturally we’re hopeful Tapwrit will move on to compete in the Kentucky Derby.”
Stanford Sets Record
The record day for Pletcher’s stable began when Stanford set a Tampa Bay Downs track record of 1:41.75 for 1 1/16 miles on dirt in winning the $100,000 Challenger Stakes for 4-year-olds and up.
With John Velazquez riding, Stanford broke the record of 1:42.45 that McCraken set this past Feb. 11 in winning the Sam F. Davis (Grade 3) for 3-year-olds.
Tapwrit finished second by 1 1/2 lengths to McCraken in The Sam F. Davis. McCraken did not run in the Tampa Bay Derby because of a left front ankle strain that his trainer Ian Wilkes described as “very minor.”
Wilkes hopes to have McCraken ready for the 1 1/8 mile Blue Grass (Grade 2) on April 8 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.
Stanford, the 1-2 favorite, led gate-to-wire and beat Amy’s Flatter by 3 ¼ lengths in the Challenger.
Three races later, Tapwrit broke the stakes record for the Tampa Bay Derby and moved himself higher on the list of contenders for the Kentucky Derby. That 1 ¼ mile race will be on May 6 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
With Jose Ortiz riding, Tapwrit beat State of Honor by 4 ½ lengths and ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.36. That broke the stakes record 1:42.82 that Pletcher trainee Destin set in winning last year’s Tampa Bay Derby. Wild Shot finished third.
Tapwrit, the even-money favorite, was in seventh place after a half mile. He then began splitting horses, took command around the turn and powered to his victory.
The win gave the son of Tapit 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.
Tapwrit has 54 qualifying points and is virtually assured of a spot in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field.
The win was Pletcher’s fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby, and fourth in the last five years in that race.
Tampa Bay’s dirt track was listed as fast, and it should be noted that several other winning dirt track times were very fast.
But those who watched the races of Tapwrit and of Stanford would have to rate their performances, as exceptional, regardless of any speed bias.
On Sunday, we will report on the Equibase speed figures earned by Tapwrit and Stanford. We also will look at the results of the Tampa Bay Derby in the wider context of how the field is shaping up for the Kentucky Derby.
On Saturday, State of Honor earned 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and has 22. Wild Shot earned 10 points and has 17. McCraken has 20 points.
Last year, 32 points was the cutoff for making the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field.
The Blue Grass is among stakes races in April that will have 100, 40, 20 and ten points for the first three finishers.
–Photos courtesy of Tampa Bay Downs and SV Photography